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Jan 25 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 24, 2016 – Acts Chapter 2

Old Dogs and New Tricks

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms.
But Peter along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene–walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up, and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
And all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were all filled with wonder and amazement. Acts 3:1-10

Intro: Acts chapter 3 follows the pattern of chapter 2

It begins with a miracle and the miracle draws public attention
– the general reaction is wonder and amazement
• then Peter delivers a speech that provides a context for the miracle
◦ his central theme is Jesus Christ — and the name of Jesus
• the point of all this is that God calls the crowd to himself through Jesus
– but unlike chapter 2, in this episode there’s a complication
• after the speech, Peter and John are taken into custody
• and this complication is carried over into the next chapter

Let’s move in for a closer look

Archaeologists have excavated stairs leading to the temple mount
– this was the southern entrance and the primary approach for most people
• the stairway is broad enough to accommodate hundreds of people coming and going
◦ nearby shops provided items needed for worship
◦ and a number of small pools served for ritual cleansing
• there’s no doubt Jesus and his disciples walked these steps
◦ this is where I imagine Peter and John encountering the beggar
◦ it is easy to see why invalids would come here to beg
– Peter and John were not going to the temple to preach or make a scene
• it is likely that “the hour of prayer” was becoming a routine in their new life
• I would assume that they had seen this man before, since he was a regular there
◦ it is also possible that they seldom noticed him or the many other beggars
◦ they all blended into the background scenery one passed to get to the temple

Luke’s phrase “from his mother’s womb” prohibits clinical detachment
– it is more intimate than “congenital” or “from birth”
• it triggers different sentiments, combining hope and heartache,
◦ maternal nurture and a cruel fate, a loving biological bond and a systems failure
• that every day he was “carried” and “set down” there casts him in an infant-like state
◦ still dependent on others — though he was more than forty years old (4:22)
– I wonder if as a child, this beggar ever envied the kids who could run and jump

Going on with Peter and John, the story becomes uncomfortable

Seasoned beggars can pick out compassionate, empathetic people
– perhaps he recognized these qualities in Peter and John and called to them
• when Peter heard him, he “fixed his gaze on him”
this is something you never do
◦ first, disabled do not like to be stared at — they want normal treatment
◦ second, it’s harder to look a needy person in the eye and say no
– for a moment, the air is electric with nervous tension
• perhaps Peter is deliberating or discerning what he’s supposed to do
◦ should he shake his head and walk on?
• he makes his decision and says, “Look at us”
◦ immediately this appears to be promising for the beggar
◦ but Peter continues, “We don’t have any money”

This statement completely changes dynamics of the moment
– all the energy leaks out of it, the suspense is broken
• perhaps the beggar now thinks, “Then what good are you to me? Move it!”
• but Peter wasn’t finished, “However, what we do have, we’ll share with you”

I believe Bruce Larson’s phrase is spot on, “We don’t have silver and gold to deal with your problem. All we have is ourselves and our faith.”

– this is, at the very least, what we all have — and it’s enough

I wonder at what point Peter decided to grab the beggar’s hand
– it’s a dramatic and risky gesture
• then, what happens next is impossible for me to comprehend
• we do not remember learning to walk
◦ but there’s good reason why God made toddlers so low to ground
– learning to walk is not merely a matter of getting legs and feet moving
• tens of thousands of connections must form between neurons
◦ the coordination of different parts of brain is also required
• messages from the entire body arrive at and pass through the brain stem
◦ sight, muscular contraction, sensations of balance and stability must be integrated
◦ for the beggar, all these processes had to occur instantly to walk and jump!

Once in the temple, the beggar became a sensation

It bothered Peter that people looked at him with astonishment

But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” (v. 12)

– Peter was fully aware he lacked both power and piety
• we sabotage ourselves with the assumption that we should be more pious
◦ we think, “If I were a better Christian, God would do greater with me”
◦ or “If I were more devout” or “more serious about my spiritual life”
• but our piety is only impressive to ourselves and a few others
◦ God doesn’t need it — he’s able to use an aluminum can
– the moment did not belong to Peter — it wasn’t about him

We have to wonder at Peter’s boldness
– it was his fear of these people that frightened him into denying Christ
• but now listen to this bold accusation

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. (vv. 13-15)

• these statements are thick with contradictions and contrasts
◦ e.g., disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked to be given a murderer

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. (Jn. 1:11)

◦ fortunately, it is never to late to own him

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name. (Jn. 1:12)

– Peter invented a term that gave significant force to this contrast: “Prince of life”
• this phrase appears nowhere else in scripture
• “murderer” is to death what “Prince of life” is to resurrection
◦ the murderer delivers death, where as the Prince of life raises the dead to life

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (Jn. 10:10)

As in the previous chapter, Peter’s goal was to turn them toward Jesus

And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all. (v. 16)

Notice how the apostles used the name of Jesus as if they had power of attorney
– when they spoke it, Jesus himself was present
• this is the message: Jesus lives and he brings others to life in himself
• there’s a way of being with God that brings strength and wholeness
– notice also how Peter’s message carried a sense of urgency
• but not like modern evangelists who use fear to manipulate an audience
◦ “If you were to die tonight, where would you go? To heaven or hell?”
• for the apostles, the urgency was not about death
◦ but the return of Christ and the full realization of all God promised
◦ times of refreshment v. 19) and the restoration of all things (v. 21)
• world transformation would follow personal transformation

Conc: What of all this are we supposed to take home?

The meaning of the miracle is that change is possible
– v. 19, “repent and return”
• repent translates metanoia – a change of mind or thought
◦ in today’s popular jargon, “change your brain” or neuroplasticity
◦ those attitudes, reactions and habits ingrained in neural connections
• the miracle is that this specific type of change is possible
– new pathways can be constructed through the brain
• and these changes can alter a person’s whole life

Daniel Siegel, a Clinical Professor at UCLA, wants us to realize something:
– how we affect each other and that such influence is unavoidable
• every interaction with another person changes the activity in both brains
◦ our nervous systems were created to feel what others feel
◦ to mirror the internal states of family, friends and even strangers
• so every human interaction has potential for producing a good or bad effect
– whether we know it or not, we are already changing lives

Peter’s statement, “we are witnesses” is tantamount to saying “change agents”
– we ourselves can change and we can change the life of another person
• the story we tell regarding Jesus Christ and what he has done for us
• perhaps more importantly, the story we live and breathe
active witness: speaking up, reaching out, getting involved
passive witness: simply being who you are

As we’ve seen in today’s story:
– we don’t have to step outside of our normal routine to find opportunity
– we don’t have to be pious or powerful to change a life

It is enough to be in God, in Jesus Christ and filled with his Spirit

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